Heading Southwest

If you love England, and I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t, you are always thinking of the next visit.  It’s a difficult task because, if it were just me, I’d go back and forth across the country until I was able to see every area including Scotland and Wales.

My next visit will probably be a foursome with my husband and our good friends, driving Southwest to Devon and Cornwall and looping around to visit Bath. My bestie’s family is from Christchurch and though we have been to England together, once in 2005, we didn’t get to visit there.  I think it’s so important to go where your family originated if you can.  Go to the church and the churchyard, look for those names that you’ve heard your whole life in family stories or read so often in your research.

christchurch

My first trip over in 2001, we headed south through Cornwall to Land’s End and up the West Coast to Wales, I absolutely loved it there.  I want my husband and friends to see some of it and for Suzanne to be in the places where her family came from.  I hope she has the overwhelming feeling of home that I had the first time I went to Sussex and walked in the footsteps of my father’s family.  I hope you get to Cornwall and revel in it’s Celtic history and beauty.

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The history of Cornwall is fascinating and extensive.   There are lots of books and information online.  There have been people there since 4000 BC, so there is not enough space here to delve into that subject.  I think I am most impressed with the fact that the Cornish people have held onto their culture and are now considered a distinct Ethnic group by the UK government.

christchurch-dorset-16

We’ll go to London first, our friend Bruce hasn’t had the opportunity to go there yet and there is so much to see.  Of course you can’t do London in one trip, unless you have unlimited time and money.  Hopefully this will be the beginning of several visits over for them.  I will write about what we saw and did after the fact since, as of now, in the early days of planning I’m not sure which attractions we’ll get to see.

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While in London each of us will plan a day out, as well as take a day on one of the jump on and off London bus tours.   Afterwards, we’ll head south by train to Christchurch and spend at least most of a day there, we’ll go to the church, explore the town and have lunch.  A few years ago my cousin Claire gave me a book, “Footpaths of Britain”.  There is a lovely walk in Christchurch along the harbor to Hengistbury Head, it’s about an hour with nice views of the Isle of Wight, a nature reserve and the beach at Sandspit.

hengistbury-head-visitor

Whether or not we find this town interesting enough to stay the night remains to be seen, but after our visit, we’ll hit the road and head towards the West Coast, stopping along the way at anything that looks interesting to any of us.  I love this kind of a trip and I did it in 2001 and again in 2005. You drive along and take in the countryside, looking at maps and signposts until you see something that looks so delightful you just have to stop.  In the afternoon when you start thinking about dinner and bed, you stop in a town and visit the tourist information office.  These places have books and maps for sale, leaflets to give away and loads of advice on things to see or do.  After a conversation with the helpful staff, you just let them know how much further you’d like to travel that day or if there is a particular place you want to stop.  They have catalogs of B&Bs and hotels with photos, so you have a general idea of what to expect. They ask you what you’d like to spend on lodging, and will actually call ahead for you to let them know you’re coming, give you directions and send you on your way with a plan.

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Sometimes that kind of visit won’t work because of time constraints, event dates, etc., you wouldn’t want it to be so loose.  Then booking ahead online is the way to go.  With sites like Tripadvisor, Travelocity, and Air B&B you can easily make it all work.

time-tracking

I’ve had people tell me how brave I am to go on an adventure without concrete plans like this one.  I guess it’s a kind of adventure, but really, you are in a civilized country that speaks the same language.  The people I’ve met along the way are always welcoming and helpful, so it’s not the kind of adrenaline filled travel in the darkest forests of the Amazon.  It’s fairly tame and you just might discover something off the beaten path that will make it amazing!

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The Hidden Gardens of Heligan

I recently added a channel app to my streaming that has lots of British TV shows.  One of them is “Britain’s Best Bakery” and I’ve decided that we have to stop and taste the fabulous offerings of some of the Cornish bakeries that were showcased.

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That’s pretty much the plan for this next excursion.  It’s fairly easy planning I think, pick the date, buy the plane ticket, keep saving to pay for it all.  Then just pack and go!  We already know we would be staying at Fox Hill B&B because it’s my favorite place in London, the rest is up to fate and whimsy.

 

 

 

 

Strange Customs

I was thinking about the fairs and festivals I’ve seen over the years that are portrayed in English movies.  I thought I would research some of them on Google and entered “Obscure English Customs”.  It brought up lots of different things, some I’ve heard of and some I could never even imagine.

I pulled a dozen, from all over the UK.  I got them from a large calendar of events that I thought might interest you.  A few throughout the year:

JanuaryUp Helly Aa, Lerwick, Shetland

The largest fire festival in Europe is celebrated in Scotland on the last Tuesday of January every year. A torch-light procession through the streets of Lerwick, followed by the burning of a full-size replica of a Viking longship.

Wow, I’d love to see this! 

FebruaryBlessing the Throats, St Ethelreda, London

Two candles are tied together, lit, and touched on to the necks of people suffering from sore throats.

I wonder if this works?  Can’t be any worse than taking a man made chemical remedy:)

MarchTichborne Dole, Tichborne, Hampshire

The Tichborne Dole is one of the eccentric British traditions and dates back to the thirteenth century. It takes place every year on March 25th the Feast of the Annunciation (Lady’s Day).  The dole was flour and it was given to the poor until 1796. From 1796 Tichborne family have given money to the church instead.

This is a nice custom to help the less fortunate.  I wonder why they stopped? Let’s hope the church helped to feed the poor.

AprilWorld Coal Carrying Championship – Near Wakefield in Yorkshire

On Easter Monday, The World Coal Carrying Championship takes place in the village of Gawthorpe, in Yorkshire. Contestants run for one mile, carrying a 50kg bag of coal.  The contest dates from an incident at the Beehive Inn in 1963, when Lewis Hartley said to Reggie Sedgewick: “Ba gum, lad, tha’ looks buggered!” to which an affronted Mr Sedgewick riposted: “Let’s ‘ave a coil race from Barracks t’ Maypole.” And they did.

This isn’t a very old custom, but it sounds like a good idea after a few ales! 

MayCotswold Olimpick Games, Dover’s Hill, above Chipping Campden,                                                                                                                       Gloucestershire

An annual highlight of The Cotswold Olimpick Games is the Shin Kicking Championship.  As the sun began to set on Dover’s Hill, a band of white-coat-clad competitors began stuffing straw down their trousers ready for the British Shin Kicking Championship.  Competitors grasp each other by the shoulders and attempt to land well-timed blows to their opponent’s shins (between the knee and ankle).  Only then – in mid-kick – can a player attempt to bring his opposite number to the ground. The sport has been practiced on Dover’s Hill, near Chipping Campden, since the early 17th Century.

Ouch!

JuneNettle Eating Contest Marsham, Dorset

Held as part of a charity beer festival at the Bottle Inn in the village of Marshwood near Crewkerne, the event attracts entrants from around the world. Challengers attempt to out eat the current champion nettle-eater.

Ugh,stinging nettles!

JulySwan Upping (last Monday) River Thames

The Dyers and Vintner’s Companies have the right, established in medieval times, to keep swans on the Thames River. Every year the Queen’s Swan Keeper and Swan Markers from the two livery companies row in skiffs along the river to mark the cygnets (baby swans).

I imagine this is fun to watch.

AugustBog Snorkelling Championships,
                    Waen Rhydd peat bog, near Llanwrtyd Wells in mid Wales

The aim is to swim two lengths of the 60-yard Waen Rhydd peat bog with flippers and snorkel in the fastest time. There are different categories including juniors, fancy dress, women’s and men’s.

And this is probably funny to watch!  She looks to be having a good time!

SeptemberThe Horn Dance-Abbots Bromley in Staffordshire

The ancient Horn Dance is an annual event held traditionally on the first Monday after the first Sunday after September 4th!  The famous Horn Dance is performed by six Deer-men who wear reindeer horns. The dancers follow a 10 mile course and perform the ritual in 12 different locations in and around the village, whilst the musician plays tunes such as “The Farmers Boy” and “Uncle Mick” on a melodeon, with accompaniment from a triangle.

Lots of laughing and clapping, I’ll wager!

OctoberPearly King Harvest Festival-(First Sunday)Church of St Martin-in-the-Fields 

Dating from the 19th century, the Pearly Kings & Queens are a much-loved Cockney tradition. It started when a young boy covered a suit with pearly buttons to attract attention and to raise money for the poor at charity events and fairs. Other boroughs were so impressed that they got their own Pearly King or Queen.
The tradition continues to thrive today and Pearly Kings and Queens can be seen in their full spectacle at the annual Pearly Kings and Queens Harvest Festival.  The annual Harvest Festival Service at the church of St. Martin-in-the Fields offers a spectacular display of historical London in all its glory.

These costumes have to be costly, even if they only use buttons! 

NovemberTar-Barrel Racing Ottery St Mary, Devon

Ottery St. Mary is internationally renowned for its Tar Barrels, an old custom said to have originated in the 17th century.  The annual event involves people racing through the streets of the town, carrying flaming wooden barrels of burning tar on their backs.

A crazy carry over I guess, not for the faint of heart!

DecemberMaldon Mud Race-Essex

Hundreds of people wading through muddy lagoons and marshes around Maldon. The event takes place at Promenade Park, at 1pm, with all money raised going to local charities.

They are dedicated!  Brrrr!

I may plan my next trip over around one of these,  some really interesting events.  You can read more about these on Wikipedia or by following my search to “Festivals and Celebrations”.

Missing England

It’s been eleven months since our last visit to England, which is amazing when I think about it.  The time has flown and yet it seems like we were just there.  This last week I couldn’t help thinking about all of the things that I still want to see and experience.

I know I should see some other part of the world.  The thing is, traveling can be stressful but going to England is not, at least not for me.  It’s easy and relaxing.

I feel comfortable there, I understand the language, the transportation, the money.  I love the people, the gardens and countryside, the food and the history.

And it doesn’t matter if it’s a small village, a busy city or the heart of London.  There is always so much to see and learn and experience.  There isn’t a week that goes by that I’m not thinking of what it would take to go back.  The age old problem of time and money.  I have gone back to work part time and can no longer think about going on a whim.  Not that I’ve ever done that, but I could have!

I still haven’t been further north than Cambridge, there is a lot more country to explore.  I love Wales and would like to spend more time there as well.  Then there’s Scotland, where my father’s family, Melrose, is from. The very reason my obsession with the UK started.

So, you see, we have to go again.  On top of the above justifications to make another trek over, my husband has mentioned going back every week since we came home last September!  Hopefully 2016 will be my lucky trip #7.  I better start saving, I have a daughter getting married in the spring as well.  I tried to talk her into a destination wedding.  “It would be the perfect place, if it were you getting married”, was her response.  My 40th anniversary is coming up, maybe Neil would consider renewing our vows in London:)

London-I’m Back!

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Fox Hill B&B, Crystal Palace

 I’m back in London and looking forward to showing some of it to my husband Neil.  We’re staying at the only place I’ve ever stayed in London, The Fox Hill B&B in Crystal Palace.  It’s home for me after so much time spent here and Neil’s first time to visit our friends and the proprietors Sue and Tim Haigh.  This is such and interesting house and I always feel so comfortable and well taken care of.  A family home, so you can expect to encounter pets, grandchildren, newspapers and the general chaos of a family life.  I’ve read good and bad reviews of this and other B&Bs that I’ve stayed in, in many places that I’ve been.  I love B&Bs for this reason and I’m always surprised when I see a review that mentions that everything wasn’t perfect all the time or it wasn’t like such and such commercial hotel. People, get real, if you don’t like the homey feel of a B&B, don’t go to one.  Go to the Hilton where you can complain as much as you like online and it won’t make a bit of difference to them.  Don’t go to someone’s home where you’ll encounter everyday home life and expect that you’ll get anything else.  I try my hardest not to go to a chain hotel or a chain restaurant for that matter.  Unless you’re rolling in money, they’re all mediocre.  The one exception is when I’m driving from point a to point b and just want to get there.  If you’re going to a foreign country and want to learn something about the culture, go to a B&B.  Meet the people, see how they live, it’s really the only way to honestly get that experience.

Our first day in London was fun and exhausting, as it should be.  After taking the train to Victoria Station we started walking toward Buckingham Palace.  We walked past one of my favorite places for traditional tea, The Rubens Hotel, and then all around the palace.  We checked out the gate, the guards, the grounds, the Victoria Memorial, past St, James’ Park and all the way around the palace.  We then took off in the direction of the Parliament and Westminster Abbey, stopping at a small Italian store/deli for a delicious sandwich made with prosciutto and mozzarella at a sidewalk table.

 Just walking through any area of London you will see many iconic places that you’ve heard about all of your life, whether from books, movies, TV,  news or history class.   I always get a little thrill when I see the name of something that I’d heard mentioned sometime in my life.  Paddington, Wembley, Bond Street, Bloomsbury, Covent Gardens.  I love looking at the architecture, monuments, gardens, the different cars and road signs.  One thing that I noticed on my first trip there and subsequent visits is the lack of pick up trucks.  I’m from the West Coast and pretty much every man I’ve known, starting with my dad, had a pick up truck.  Of course I come from a long line of construction workers, which means most of the people I hang out with have something to do in that field.  My husband who, by the way, worked at a grocery store when I met him, also works in the construction business.  Neil asked a couple of workmen that he met on the train about how they go about doing business without a truck.  We were told that they either use the boot of their car or hire a van when they need to move bigger stuff.  You’re more apt to see Euro Vans about town instead of a pick up truck like we would use here.

After our lunch we headed down to look at the beautiful and historical Westminster Abbey and then waited in the long lines for the London Eye.  It’s a great way to see the city’s layout.  I feel it’s kind of expensive at £21 a person, but of course we paid because it’s something we wanted to do.  I’m not really complaining except as a reference for the reader.  I’m sure that it cost a fortune to build and maintain.  But it takes 800 passengers for each rotation,  32 cars with 25 people in each car.  It takes a half hour to go around and it doesn’t stop.  At last count, it takes more than 3.5 million visitors a year.  At the current cost of a ticket, and they have no discounts for seniors or children, that’s almost £74 million pounds a year. I just checked their website and the tickets have now gone up to £29.95!   I’m pretty sure they get an excellent profit from that and the corporation is very pleased.

I had only ever been at night, so I purchased the “360° Viewing Guide” for a couple of pounds and well worth it.  It shows the view of day on one side and night on the other.  In addition to showing many, many iconic buildings on the guide, it also shows the direction that you’re looking.  I found this very helpful because, as many times as I’ve visited, I have no sense of direction there, at all.  Unless it’s sunup or sundown, I haven’t a clue.

We left the eye and walked around a bit more, found a great bakery and picked up dessert, then headed back to Fox Hill B&B for dinner and a little TV with our friends.

Leaving Sussex for London

Sept 13th, 2014

We headed to the village after breakfast for one more look around.  When we got back, Lin had a video of the history of Billingshurst.  Of course she has lived here all of her life, so she could pick out a few errors in the more modern history.  It was interesting hearing about the village, built on the Roman Road of Stane Street. The oldest building is St. Mary’s Church where my ancestors worshiped, early documentary evidence begins in the 1100s!

 

St Mary’s Church

There are many timber framed buildings throughout the village dating from the Middle Ages to the 1700s.  There is a wonderful old pub there called “The Six Bells”, which I think I’ve visited on each of my holidays here.

The Six Bells-Billingshurst

It really is a fun and interesting village to check out.  It’s close to Horsham which is also worth the visit.  After a very nice home cooked lunch and visit with Lin’s daughter and grandson, Claire and Warren, we had to walk down to the station and say our goodbyes.

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Saying goodbye at the Billingshurst Station

The Billingshurst Train station is a great building in it’s own right.  Many of my predecessors worked for the railroad in Billingshurst so I’m very interested in the history.  The last time I visited,  2 years ago, the signal box was here.   The Grade II listed structure is thought to be one of the country’s oldest working signal boxes dating back to 1876.  The signal box was moved to Amberley Museum and can be seen as you come into the second station.

Billingshurst Signal Box

 

It’s time to get it all together and head north to London.  It’s been a great visit and I know when I’m home thinking about all of the things that we did and saw, the laughter, the hugs, I’ll again start longing to return.  This is always when my next plan starts to form.  Right now though, I’m anxious to get to London, as I love it as well.  London is the world in one place and I just like to be there.

It takes about an hour to get to the station where our friend Tim will pick us up.  This night we’ll be having dinner and catching up with our good friends and then planning our time here in London.

 

 

 

Christmas in London

Merry, Happy, Joyeux Christmas!!  This is a re-post of my blog about spending Christmas in London 2008. Tis the season and I hope you are enjoying yours this year!

I was lucky enough, along with my cousin Marcie, to be invited to London to “see how they do Christmas” in 2008.  We were generously invited by our friends Susan and Tim.  Neither of us have ever gone away and not done Christmas with our families, ever.  I personally will probably not do it again unless they all come with me!  I missed them and all of our quirky little traditions.  The kind that only your own family can have, kept over the years because it gave one or all of us a happy feeling that we wanted to experience again and again.   I’m not sure how the rest of you are, but we try new and different things along with the old ones that were brought from when my husband and I were growing up.  Some things we have to do because of tradition, then we’ll add a little something new and maybe that will be the only year we do it or it becomes part of our repertoire.

At any rate, having the opportunity to go to England and experience with our friends and their family was an offer neither of us could refuse.   I think about it often and pull out the wonderful book of photos that Marcie made for us as a remembrance.  Indeed, I show it to everyone because it captures the fun and amazement that we experienced there.  I am only going to include a few highlights here for a couple of reasons: One is, that if you are anything like me, when it’s over it’s over.  I have a friend that puts her tree(s) up at Halloween and leaves them up until Valentine’s Day.  This is not me.  To my mind it takes the “special” time of year away.  Two,  I have had a spectacularly busy and crazy year and I can not locate my journal of that particular trip.  (New Year resolution: organize my office!)

Most of us came from European descent and holiday traditions were also brought over and passed down, so it was familiar and different at the same time.  Going to this already lovely home in Crystal Palace with the bright red door is always a wonderful homey feeling for both of us.  The wreath on the door, the decorations every where, the hustle and bustle of the season added to our excitement of being there.  The decorations and lights around the city of London were truly magical.                                       

Our friends had arranged a special present for us,  a Christmas choir concert at Westminster Abbey!  Can you imagine?  We had never been in the Abbey, in all of our visits.  I was awe struck, the history, the beauty of the place.  There were readings by Boris Johnson, actors and other dignitaries.  But the music, the voices were inspiring.   I felt my mind wandering, trying to remember some of the history that I had heard about the abbey.  I had to make myself focus on what was happening or I would have missed it.   I couldn’t believe I was lucky enough to have witnessed something this beautiful and profound. There were carols that I recognized and ancient songs that I never knew existed.   I will be forever grateful to them for thinking of us.  It is a family tradition of theirs to go to this wonderful concert every year.  I admit that I was a little blown away when Sue told us that her children went to preschool at the abbey.  Being a foreigner it never occurred to me that this was a working church.  I naively assumed that it was for special royal ceremonies and tourists.

Marcie and I went Christmas shopping to gather a few things for a gift basket for our hosts. We had brought many small tastes of America for them, canned albacore from Oregon, wine from a Southern California winery, chocolate infused with chili, marionberry jam from the northwest.  We needed to find a basket as well as add a few fillers.  We headed to John Lewis, a lovely British department store.  The first visit we made to England included a visit to John Lewis where I bought a warm down comforter.  I somehow stuffed it into a tote bag to carry it home on the plane.   Having got it here I discovered that it was just too warm for my middle aged body, so it’s keeping one of my daughters toasty warm every winter!  At any rate, after shopping around we found ourselves at Green Park and remembered that Sue had told us to stop at the hour and watch the clock at Fortnum & Mason’s.  Not wanting to miss anything that cool, we did just that.  We also went in to peruse the lovely holiday displays.

One of our really fun days was spent going to Hampton Court.  I’ve been to many of the castles and palaces since I started visiting England, but this is one of my favorites.  Perhaps it’s the history, all Americans seem to love Henry VIII and the story of his wives.  So brutal and romantic at the same time.  It was decorated for Christmas and there was an actual ice skating rink set up on the front grounds.  The tour was very revealing and touring the kitchens was a real eye opener.  You just don’t normally think of the day to day actions it took to run this huge residence for the king, his guests and the hundreds of people that worked there.  The grounds are really beautiful, it’s what you would imagine a royal palace to look like, you can just see them taking walks through the park, reading on a bench, embroidering in an alcove.

Here is my cousin beside one of the giant decorated trees:

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Now, I’m going to talk about the food. You knew it was coming, right?  It’s all about the food and at the holidays especially. First of all, my friend Sue is an excellent cook.  It’s not only delicious, but she likes to add little surprise ingredients that the average person wouldn’t think of, at least not this average person!  So, for Christmas morning, we had champagne and little salmon sandwiches in front of the fire.

       I was impressed with their gift giving, so much more practical than the average American way of going crazy and spending a fortune on the people on your list.  They gave personal useful gifts that weren’t over the top, expensive or trendy.  I’m not talking about socks and underwear either.   But things that the other person was interested in and would be used for years and the giver would be thought of every time.  Like a very fine journal for a writer, or an unusual utensil for a chef, things like that.  Something they will cherish but didn’t put the giver into credit card debt.  Being a banker, this is the kind of thing I see year after year here in America.

Our Christmas dinner was flavorful, satisfying and long, in a good way.  First of all, the table was set beautifully with an array of silverware and glasses.  There were crackers at every place setting and yes, we all did wear the funny little crown hats!  I’d seen it on movies but didn’t imagine that I would ever be doing this at Christmas time. It was fun!  Our first course was plates of delicious cheeses and gherkins (pickles), crackers and breads and of course wine.

For the main course,  Sue had gotten the most wonderful Suffolk ham, promising that it was “very special”.  A huge understatement!   This was joined on the plate with perfect potatoes roasted in duck fat, carrots, green beans and herbed popovers, served with more lovely wine.  For dessert a traditional plum pudding was brought forth, steaming and gorgeous.  Altogether, a feast fit for a king (or queen).  Here it is in all it’s glory:

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 For New Year Eve, Sue made us another lovely feast.   But first Marcie and I spent the day in London, visited the Old Globe theater and walked across the Millennium Bridge to Saint Paul’s.   photo (10)

Then we went back to our home away from home where we spent another wonderful evening sharing with, by now, old friends, this delectable meal:

photo (14)

Beautiful food, artistically presented, and amazingly flavorful.  This is a beautifully arranged plate of hor d’oeuvres.  Followed by pheasant with whipped potatoes, whipped sweet potatoes and other various tasties!

 I am the luckiest girl in the world to have, not only my family and friends here at home, but my extended family and friends so far away from here.   I truly wish you all a Happy, Healthy New Year and hope you find a place you love and feel a kinship to as I have.  Happy traveling!

Christmas in London

Well, I’m a bit late as usual with a post, this one about Christmas.  Merry, Happy, Joyeux Christmas!!

I was lucky enough, along with my cousin Marcie, to be invited to London to “see how they do Christmas” in 2008.  We were generously invited by our friends Susan and Tim.  Neither of us have ever gone away and not done Christmas with our families, ever.  I personally will probably not do it again, I missed them and all of our quirky little traditions.  The kind that only your own family can have, kept over the years because it gave one or all of us a happy feeling that we wanted to experience again and again.   I’m not sure how the rest of you are, but we try new and different things along with the old ones that were brought from when my husband and I were growing up.  Some things we have to do because of tradition, then we’ll add a little something new and maybe that will be the only year we do it or it becomes part of our repertoire.

At any rate, having the opportunity to go to England and experience with our friends and their family was an offer neither of us could refuse.   I think about it often and pull out the wonderful book of photos that Marcie made for us as a remembrance.  Indeed, I show it to everyone because it captures the fun and amazement that we experienced there.  I am only going to include a few highlights here for a couple of reasons: One is, that if you are anything like me, when it’s over it’s over.  I have a friend that puts her tree(s) up at Halloween and leaves them up until Valentine’s Day.  This is not me.  To my mind it takes the “special” time of year away.  Two,  I have had a spectacularly busy and crazy year and I can not locate my journal of that particular trip.  (New Year resolution: organize my office!)

Most of us came from European descent and holiday traditions were also brought over and passed down, so it was familiar and different at the same time.  Going to this already lovely home in Crystal Palace with the bright red door is always a wonderful homey feeling for both of us.  The wreath on the door, the decorations every where, the hustle and bustle of the season added to our excitement of being there.  The decorations and lights around the city of London were truly magical.

                                                                            

Our friends had arranged a special present for us,  a Christmas choir concert at Westminster Abbey!  Can you imagine?  We had never been in the Abbey, in all of our visits.  I was awe struck, the history, the beauty of the place.  There were readings by Boris Johnson, actors and other dignitaries.  But the music, the voices were inspiring.   I felt my mind wandering, trying to remember some of the history that I had heard about the abbey.  I had to make myself focus on what was happening or I would have missed it.   I couldn’t believe I was lucky enough to have witnessed something this beautiful and profound. There were carols that I recognized and ancient songs that I never knew existed.   I will be forever grateful to them for thinking of us.  It is a family tradition of theirs to go to this wonderful concert every year.  I admit that I was a little blown away when Sue told us that her children went to preschool at the abbey.  Being a foreigner it never occurred to me that this was a working church.  I naively assumed that it was for special royal ceremonies and tourists.

Marcie and I went Christmas shopping to gather a few things for a gift basket for our hosts. We had brought many small tastes of America for them, canned albacore from Oregon, wine from a Southern California winery, chocolate infused with chili, marion berry jam from the northwest.  We needed to find a basket as well as add a few fillers.  We headed to John Lewis, a lovely British department store.  The first visit we made to England included a visit to John Lewis where I bought a warm down comforter.  I somehow stuffed it into a tote bag to carry it home on the plane.   Having got it here I discovered that it was just too warm for my middle aged body, so it’s keeping one of my daughters toasty warm every winter!  At any rate, after shopping around we found ourselves at Green Park and remembered that Sue had told us to stop at the hour and watch the clock at Fortnum & Mason’s.  Not wanting to miss anything that cool, we did just that.  We also went in to peruse the lovely holiday displays.

One of our really fun days was spent going to Hampton Court.  I’ve been to many of the castles and palaces since I started visiting England, but this is one of my favorites.  Perhaps it’s the history, all Americans seem to love Henry VIII and the story of his wives.  So brutal and romantic at the same time.  It was decorated for Christmas and there was an actual ice skating rink set up on the front grounds.  The tour was very revealing and touring the kitchens was a real eye opener.  You just don’t normally think of the day to day actions it took to run this huge residence for the king, his guests and the hundreds of people that worked there.  The grounds are really beautiful, it’s what you would imagine a royal palace to look like, you can just see them taking walks through the park, reading on a bench, embroidering in an alcove.

Here is my cousin beside one of the giant decorated trees:

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Now, I’m going to talk about the food. You knew it was coming, right?  It’s all about the food and at the holidays especially. First of all, my friend Sue is an excellent cook.  It’s not only delicious, but she likes to add little surprise ingredients that the average person wouldn’t think of, at least not this average person!  So, for Christmas morning, we had champagne and little salmon sandwiches in front of the fire.

       I was impressed with their gift giving, so much more practical than the average American way of going crazy and spending a fortune on the people on your list.  They gave personal useful gifts that weren’t over the top, expensive or trendy.  I’m not talking about socks and underwear either.   But things that the other person was interested in and would be used for years and the giver would be thought of every time.  Like a very fine journal for a writer, or an unusual utensil for a chef, things like that.  Something they will cherish but didn’t put the giver into credit card debt.  Being a banker, this is the kind of thing I see year after year here in America.

Our Christmas dinner was flavorful, satisfying and long, in a good way.  First of all, the table was set beautifully with an array of silverware and glasses.  There were crackers at every place setting and yes, we all did wear the funny little crown hats!  I’d seen it on movies but didn’t imagine that I would ever be doing this at Christmas time. It was fun!  Our first course was plates of delicious cheeses and gherkins (pickles), crackers and breads and of course wine.

For the main course,  Sue had gotten the most wonderful Suffolk ham, promising that it was “very special”.  I huge understatement!   This was joined on the plate with perfect potatoes roasted in duck fat, carrots, green beans and herbed popovers, served with more lovely wine.  For dessert a traditional plum pudding was brought forth, steaming and gorgeous.  Altogether, a feast fit for a king (or queen).  Here it is in all it’s glory:

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We ended up staying for three weeks on this particular visit.  I will locate my journal and do a proper blog with the details and the wonderful places we visited with cousins and friends.

 For New Year Eve, Sue made us another lovely feast.   But first Marcie and I spent the day in London, visited the Old Globe theater and walked across the Millennium Bridge to Saint Paul’s.   photo (10)

Then we went back to our home away from where we spent another wonderful evening sharing with, by now, old friends, this delectable meal:

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Beautiful food, artistically presented, and amazingly flavorful.  This is a beautifully arranged plate of hor d’oeuvres.  Followed by pheasant with whipped potatoes, whipped sweet potatoes and other various tasties!

 I feel like the luckiest girl in the world to have not only my family and friends here at home, but my extended family and friends so far away from here.   I truly wish you all a Happy, Healthy New Year and hope you find a place you love and feel a kinship to as I have.  Happy traveling!

Ludlow 2005-part 1

In 2005 I was living back in San Diego.  Two of my good friends, Peggy and Suzanne, still living in the Pacific Northwest had been wanting to go to England and decided that this was the year.  Together we planned a 2 week trip.  It’d been 3 years since I was able to go and I was so ready to go back.  I got on the internet to research places to stay and found a great website called holiday-rentals.com.  I just checked and the website isn’t there anymore, however, you can find Stone Cottage on ludlowcottages.co.uk.   I contacted the owner about renting the cottage for the week.  We decided it best to have a base and then take day trips.  This worked out really well and I highly recommend it. Not only do you not have to schlep luggage to a different hotel every night, it gives you a chance to thoroughly explore an area.   We found it fun and relaxing to go to the local shops to get ingredients and cook our own meals or go to a pub to try the local fare.  My mother in-law, Jean,  recommended the town, so we thought we’d give it a try.

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This time we were going in May and I hadn’t been at any time of year but September.  This is the first time I’d ever taken such a long flight alone.  Marcie couldn’t come because her daughter was getting married in the same month.  As it turned out, the plane wasn’t full and I got the triple seat to myself.  I flew British Air this time and I really enjoyed it, extra room and the food was great.  I got in a couple of hours before my friends, so I got to freshen up and have a cup of coffee.  I did some people watching which is always interesting.  Finally I see them coming out of customs, I missed them both so much.  We got on a train and headed for Crystal Palace.  We got so engrossed in catching up that we missed the connection in East Croydon.  I knew we were in trouble when I saw the Thames and London Bridge. I’m sure they weren’t too happy with me,  We’d all been traveling since yesterday morning.  We still had to wheel all the luggage down steps, under the train tracks, back up the steps, get the train at East Croydon, get off again at Crystal Palace which has it’s own daunting sets of stairs and then the 7 minute walk to Fox Hill, half of it up a steep hill.  Whew!

It’s always so great to visit with the Haighs and coming back to this house is nice, a home away from home.  Tim drove us up to a restaurant called Joanne’s in Croydon.  What a great place, the food was fantastic, so was the service and atmosphere, we thoroughly enjoyed it.  We got back to Fox Hill to have tea and catch up with the Haighs and then took a walk up to the Safeway to pick up something for a light dinner and wine, then off to bed for a much needed sleep.

We got up for a breakfast of English bacon and eggs and then head off to pick up a travel pass and head for Victoria Station and a day exploring the city. I’m disappointed to find that the flip time tables have been replaced with digital:(  The feeling of seeing the times flip and hearing the clacking is replaced with silence.  Jeez, sometimes progress is not better!

We got tickets for The Original London Bus Tour.  I said it before, but it bares repeating, if you have a choice, always go for a live tour guide instead of the headphones.  It’s confusing to have the voice tell you to look for a particular building only to find that the bus hasn’t yet reached it or we’ve already passed it.  You can’t account for traffic, so the headphones have no idea really, where you are.  After jumping off at Trafalgar Square we head into the National Gallery to check out paintings from our favorite artists.  It’s so powerful to see them in person as opposed to a picture or online.  I fell in love with paintings by Georges Seurat.  We also asked a guard where the oldest painting in the museum was.  We walked around, got lost then finally found it.  A religious icon of some type, not my thing but I’m glad I got to see it.

On to Buckingham Palace and The Rubens Hotel for an authentic English Tea.   Lovely as before.  We then headed over to Leicester Square to see if we can get theater tickets to a play.  We ended up going to the movies instead and saw “The Wedding Date”,  a very enjoyable film, but if you’ve read my post before you know that this is the most expensive movie I have ever bought a ticket for!  12 quid, the equivalent to almost $24 US dollars!   It was fine and I’d do it again, but I’m always astounded when I read that in my journal, that is 3 times what a movie costs back home.  Just something to keep in mind if you’re trying to keep to a budget, it all adds up.

We asked one of the ushers how to get back to Crystal Palace and he told us if we hurry we can catch the last underground train of the day.   Suzanne and Peggy’s first ride on the tube, we just made it and got back at 11:30.  We walked back from the train station, talking about all of the wonderful sites  we’d seen that day and planning for the next.  Tomorrow we pick up our rental car and then hit the road to Ludlow.

After having a nice breakfast of porridge, delicious toast and orange marmalade,  we get ready to head out on our next adventure.   I’m elected to drive since I am the only one with experience.  I really don’t mind, it’s easy once you get the hang of it!  It was a long drive and we are all ready to stop.  I had a moment of panic when I realize that I don’t actually have an address for Stone Cottage and Ludlow is much bigger than I expected it to be.  This is something I do again and again,  I’m so sure of myself that I don’t bother to get the facts of things, very naive of me.  I’m such a dork!  Luckily Peggy knocked on an Antiques store door and the gentleman that answered kindly made a call to his son who apparently knows the area.  He guessed at the the approximate house and it turned out to be right!  It was really quite amazing considering.  We had seen pictures from the internet so we recognized it and were very lucky really.

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We were stunned when we got inside, what an awesome house.  Over 200 years old and everything is completely re-done, spotlessly clean and cozy. The kitchen is perfect and it has a very light and wonderful conservatory.  It turns out that the stone cottage is attached to Broadgate, in the oldest part of the walled city, dating from around 1138, the walled city I mean, not the cottage.  There is a magazine from the 1970s  there that shows how the current owners bought the cottage and gutted it and made it the wonderful property it is today.   It is attractive and comfortable and very convenient to stay here, I sincerely hope I can go back one day.                    

We ran down to the local Tesco that we had passed when coming into town and picked up some groceries and wine, went back to the cottage and Suzanne made us a fabulous dinner.  Parmesan chicken, roasted veggies, salad, wine, cookies and tea.  We are happily stuffed and looking forward to spending the next day in this beautiful medieval town.

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We slept like rocks, boy, wine really helps a girl sleep!  Got up and made a breakfast with Peggy of Scottish porridge with currents, juice, yogurt, toast and tea.  We took off to explore this ancient town on foot, stopping in all of the shops, looking at the architecture, and talking with the locals.  So many fresh food shops, we are very impressed with this.  Even the cafe where we have our lunch serves food that is grown and raised locally.  It’s called DeGrey’s and it is a lovely cafe and bakery.   The shops have the most beautiful produce, organic meats and cheeses, and lots of bakeries.  Suzanne and I decide that we want to buy a gooseberry pie since neither of us has ever tried it.  We pick up some local cheese, fresh raspberries and strawberries, and also eggs, mushrooms and asparagus.  Suzanne whipped it all into a gorgeous dinner.  She took the leftover roasted veggies and chicken from the night before, added some fresh mushrooms along with sun dried tomatoes and local Gloucester goat cheese, mixed it altogether with eggs and it was fantastic.  She served it with roasted asparagus and crusty bread.  We had stopped at the local video store and amazingly they let us rent movies even though we were just visiting and had no permanent address. So we put on our jammies, light the electric fire and cozy up with a movie and some gooseberry pie to end this fantastic day.

Family Reunion in Sussex 2002

One year after our first visit to England there was another family reunion, this one in the town where our family came from, Billingshurst.  Marcie and I decided we couldn’t miss it so we planned a short trip of one week.  We would be staying with our cousin Linda and her husband Richard, but did fly into London for a night or two at Fox Hill B&B to renew our friendship with the Haigh’s.

It is really great to get to know our family of 5th generation cousins.  We’ve been talking via internet and letters for the past year and here we are visiting in person.   The only way to learn about another culture is to stay in homes and B&Bs rather than big chain hotels.  This was going to be great!

Linda and Richard are amazing hosts and couldn’t do enough to welcome us.  They gave us a lovely tea with lots of little cakes, in fact this is where the previous story of Marcie and I expectantly waiting while Linda made tea, so we could learn how to make an “authentic cuppa”.  So funny how you get these notions from TV and movies.

Linda’s daughter Claire planned the entire reunion.  Claire is the one that has really done the family research.  She is the one that posted on all of the genealogy sites, looking for ancestors.  She really did a terrific job and found from the parish records, the internet and good old fashioned sleuthing many of our families homes, farms, work places and graves.  And so “The First Gravett Tour”, as this reunion was called, was born.

But for the first day Linda had acquired a hall close to her home in Billingshurst for all of us to meet.  Claire had made up a family tree that wrapped around the room and it was fun and interesting to follow the lines and meet the others that connected a few hundred years ago.  Claire and Linda made masses of food and Claire even did a cooking demonstration of some of the old English food that our people would have eaten way back when.  She actually made mead, a beer made from honey, a bit sweet for me, but I’m sure it’s an acquired taste!

If I kept a journal of this trip I can not find it.  However, I do have the itinerary and it was a lofty plan.  So for the second day we loaded ourselves into cars and hit the road in search of family haunts.   In Billingshurst we visited no less than 9 places where Gravetts lived, a plaque in St Mary’s church with our name on it, and 13 graves in the church yard.  We then moved on to Adversane to see a few houses and a granary that were once owned by the family.  We visited Wisborough Green, Petworth, Chiddingfold, Dunsfold, Cranleigh, Ewhurst, and Rudwick each containing homes, businesses, graves, and places where our ancestors walked, lived, loved and died, fascinating! 

There were over 20 of us in all and we had a grand lunch at The Blacksmith’s Arms pub, talking and laughing and uniting in our quest for the past. There are so many mysteries in my tree that I have yet to find the answers to.  When I retire I plan to put in the time to find them out and leave that knowledge with my children.  I am so grateful for the things I have found out about the people that came before me and indeed gave me the life that I have now.  It’s the stories that have come down through generations.  I love it when I find a connection and I think “yes, this is why I feel about this the way I do, it makes sense now”.  So many parts of your life you think are just random and then you find out another clue and it becomes clearer.  Gotta love that!

I’m so grateful to Claire for doing the research and to have the opportunity to go back to the land where part of my family originated.  Just to be where they were and to be able to visualize how they lived.  You can never know really how their life was and I know that.  There is enough story teller in me though to be able to imagine their lives in a fanciful way, not reality I know, but endearing to me just the same.  In this way they are remembered and maybe they go on and are not forgotten.  I sincerely hope that my grandchildren and great grandchildren will keep me alive in the same way:)

Wrapping up this trip

September 29, 2001

Our last day here and we’re so sad to leave, but happy to go home to our families.  Our hosts are heading out for a weekend away, so we say goodbye to them this morning.   It was so good to meet and learn about them.  The entire family is so generous and welcoming and we all totally enjoyed our time with them.

Marci and I decide to go into the city for our last day, see one last play, ride the train and tube one more time.  Jean has decided to hang out at Fox Hill for a day of rest and re-packing.  At first I didn’t understand why she would come all the way over and then sit in the car or stay here.  After spending some time here though, I get it.  Just to be here, to see the history, the gardens, the country.  To sit in an English garden with a cup of tea is really heaven. You don’t have to be constantly running, you just have to be there, breathing the air,  listening to people speak, eating the food.  It’s England!

The city is even busier on Saturday than during the week if that’s possible.  The trains as well, so much humanity packed into one place.  It’s astounding!  Marci and I climbed the 193 stairs at Leister Station from the tube to the street.  Not bad for a couple of middle aged women!!

We decide to see “Private Lives” with Alan Rickman, a Noel Coward play from the 30s.  It’s very funny and the sets and costumes are great.  I love that you can go to Leister Square any time and get excellent tickets to almost any play you are interested in seeing.  In a couple of hours you are swept away for a fraction of what you’d pay on Broadway.

                                                                                  

After we arrive back at Crystal Palace Station we climb the hill to Church Street and stop to get a bottle of Bailey’s as a thank you for the Haighs.  They really did the most extraordinary favors for us from the very first day.  I don’t know what we would have done without them.

We walk up to the “Tales of the Sea” for our last fish and chips dinner in London.  We decide to get take away and have our dinner together at Fox Hill, and talk about all of the wonderful places we’ve been and then to bed early to catch a 9am plane.

September 30, 2001

We had to get to the airport three hours early because of the extra security.  I’m anxious to get home.   I can’t sleep on the flight home, thinking about all of the things we’ve experienced and people we’ve met and thinking about the people I love at home.